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Joy and Hope and All That: A Tribute to Lucille Clifton

Essay Regarding Lucille’s Roaches


In her childhood kitchen, Lucille is wielding the broom turned blade in her hand. She is becoming, in herself, a murderer.

The roaches, suddenly, a red rain.

She claims to have dreamt this moment only for a few nights, /and then not much though the poems call her bluff. She turns and turns and turns to face — what? Her cruel want of beauty? What she will do? To claim
what might be ours?


Already, the sun is high over a country that is, more than usual, not ours. My friends, nearly all of them, around the table, still tangled in the sheets, making their way through dreams of our own particular heaven. There is nothing I want more than this.

H. has been taking photographs that make us (maybe even me) impossibly beautiful. He says everyone who is not us wants to be here only because they cannot smell the shit wafting through the living room. I look at my friends’ practiced laughter. Maybe.

And yet, I see them, always, this way — it happens despite me and I pretend to deserve it.


It’s clear, of course, that the roaches are — like Lucille, like us — black. The nameless part where anything at all can be done to her. Of course, she’d want to kill, to kill. What is it,

she asks, that makes us faceless to each other? Otherwise, steeped in late-morning light?


We come by plane. By plane and plane and plane. We, all of us, copper in the warming sky. We turn down the news of home that sad mysterious country. We spend our government money. Our corporate money. Our American laughter. Our currency.

Twice, the waiter shakes his head, made anxious by our hunger —
it’s too much, I’m afraid, too much.


Lucille names this what it plainly is, a global catastrophe. She sees them, the roaches, bold with they bad selves. She calls them in our tongue.

Finally, they turn from us / faithless at last / and walk in a long line away.


At night, we move in one line through the city. P., always in the lead, her glasses black, cannot see herself being seen. The rest of us practice
staring back. We become one, dark gaze.

Behind the photographs: Careful lighting. A half-faced cat stalking the veranda. Mosquitos drying red-black on the walls. Nothing will be done to us.


Lucille, still in the mute hours of her girlhood. Lucille, walking to school carrying her father’s voice. The note written in her practiced hand. She do not have to pledge to the flag, he cries, through her, When it means to her what it means to a white girl, then she may stand. But perhaps it is inevitable,

she thinks, cruelty. A child made to speak in the voice of her family enemy. We know what her father did. What her country did. Smiled all the time … doing it.

And Lucille, girl with red rain falling inside you, when given the choice between enemy and enemy, what did you do? Stood.

You, immediately, stood.

Cameron Awkward-Rich

Cameron Awkward-Rich

Cameron Awkward-Rich is the author of Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions 2016) and Dispatch (Persea Books 2019), winner of Persea’s 2018 Lexi Rudnitsky Editor’s Choice award ...